Several associations of American academics have voted to enact a boycott against Israeli universities.
Like numerous other things said to be threatening Israel, it's not easy figuring out what is happening, and how threatening the actions.
The greatest threat to Israelis is that academics may have another hurdle to pass before getting their work accepted by international journals, or getting grants from international foundations. These things are decided on the basis of reports made by referees, and the people chosen for the task are likely to be bright enough to scuttle a project from an Israeli Jew if they are so inclined.
The greater threat may be to Americans, whose higher education is going too far in the direction of craziness.
Families paying $30 to $50 K for a year's tuition at some institutions aren't getting their money's worth.
Should American academics want to boycott any country, their own should be the first on the list. US scores on a number of key social indicators (dealing with health, violence, criminality, and equality) are the worst among Western democracies. Israel is a paradise in comparison.
The differences are much more in Israel's favor when the comparison is between the minorities of the two countries. Americans concerned about social justice can begin with Native Americans and African Americans, whose statistics put them in the Third World. Individuals may have done very well, but the general picture of those populations is dismal.
Should the boycotters be especially worried about casualties associated with military action, they should also target their own country. The numbers associated with US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan dwarf anything Israel has done. Older boycotters might remember the carpet bombing of North Vietnam.
Concerned about police brutality? Israeli security personnel and armed civilians have killed Arabs who have attacked with knives, guns and cars. Deaths of African Americans at the hands of police have come after incidents of shoplifting, failing to use a turn signal, and walking in a traffic lane.
There's also room for protest about the mess made of Mexico on account of Americans' demands for drugs.
However, a fair number of the campus protesters may be hooked and guilty, and not inclined to protest what brings them goodies.
The embarrassment for so-called high prestige American institutions is that faculty members are spending their time singing and cheerleading in an ideological chorus, rather than doing research and preparing lectures associated with what they were hired to teach. Along the way they are demonstrating ignorance of the world as they should know it.
Those of us with experience in higher education should not be surprised. There's hardly a campus, distinguished or otherwise, free from teachers who are limited in their intellect and, unstable emotionally. Somehow they've slipped through the procedures meant to keep the crackpots away, while the canons of academic freedom hinder discipline or house cleaning.
Universities are by their nature open to ideas. That is part of what supports inquiry and creativity. There has always been a price in an incidence of nuttiness.
No one should expect any better from students. There's bound to be bright kids exploring what they don't know, and caught up in the excitement of grand movements. Parents should be happy they are not going to Syria to fight for the Islamic State, or already dead from too much drugs or alcohol.
The ignorant and crazies have gotten control of some organizations of scholars. Most of them are marginal to the higher education enterprise. Administrators' sense of the politically correct allowed the creation of programs for the investigation and teaching of boutique issues like gender or the culture of marginal ethnic groups. A disproportionate incidence of boycott resolutions has come from those fringes of academia.
Associations of university presidents have recognized the dangers represented by crazies they can't fire. They are holding the line against anything that smells of anti-Semitism, and can cost them plenty with Jewish donors. There are organizations of scholars and Jews with some weight who are mobilized against the trash. Some anti-boycott activists accuse the Israeli government of not moving into the arena. However, it may be wisest to let academics continue to tend their garden. There's already enough arguments against an academic boycott of Israel. It's hard to see what the Israeli government can bring to the field. Indeed, a governmental input may provide more ammunition for those who don't know much, but are fond of expressing themselves about a repressive regime.
My own higher education coincided with Germans sent to the US in order to acquire credentials, return home and refurbish what had been the best universities in the world until they were politicized by the Nazis. Many of the best teachers and scientists had left early, Jews and non-Jews, and contributed to the US and elsewhere.
American institution are being spoiled by politicization not from the top, as in Nazi Germany, but from below by clusters of aroused students and faculty members. And as in Nazi Germany, their target is Jews.
This time Jews are part of the mob. Boycott enthusiasts include Jewish students and teachers, and at least one Jewish president of an upper status college who can't resist saying that Israel has done some awful things, even though he opposes a boycott.
Not all American institutions have been affected, and it is also spotty among European universities.
As in the 1930s, individuals aspiring to an academic career must be concerned that the places they choose to prepare are Jew-friendly, or at least Jew-neutral.
In contrast to the 1930s, high quality higher education has spread beyond Europe and America to Israel and other places. Americans looking for a decent academic experience might consider polishing their Hebrew or some other language, and hunting for good teachers who don't think that Israel is the source of all evil.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem